Preparing for Parent-Teacher Conferences

If you're meeting your child's teacher for the first time, try these strategies for getting the best one-on-one time to help your kids.
Teacher at Desk

Lincoln Barbour

A dialogue between parents and teachers is essential for supporting a child's education. Even if opinions differ -- parents frequently want their child to receive special attention, while a teacher's job is to be fair to every student -- the primary goal is the same: to help children thrive. Anne Rambo, author of I Know My Child Can Do Better!: A Frustrated Parent's Guide to Educational Solutions, recommends arriving at a conference "prepared to hear how the teacher sees your child, and to compare that with your own view. The parent should ask questions to get a sense of the daily schedule at school and what the teacher would like the parent to do to help." Before your next parent-teacher conference, follow these steps to prepare you to meet with confidence.

Oversee Homework

Observing a child doing homework gives a parent an opportunity to notice issues that may need to be addressed. Make sure your child is working in an atmosphere free of distractions (no television or loud music) and examine how she is responding to the work assigned. Is the homework too advanced, too simple, or age appropriate? Is your child struggling? Are the concepts too easily mastered? Then, at the conference, ask what is being studied at school so you can implement and enforce lessons and monitor progress at home later. Any insights or concerns can be noted and brought with you to the next school meeting.

Get Your Child's Feedback

Your child's impressions about classwork and friendships can let you know how he feels about school. Start with questions about the books he reads or which kids he interacts with; from there, a child will begin to describe other aspects of his day. Casual chats can also show your child's level of vocabulary development. If the news isn't what you were hoping, bring any concerns to the teacher's attention. Together, you can discuss how these experiences are affecting school performance. If your child complains about the teacher, keep a record of each instance and compile as many facts about the relationship as you can. For instance, volunteering to be a field trip chaperone is an excellent opportunity to view their interactions firsthand. With specific instances in mind, it's easier to discuss issues with the teacher in a professional manner, without emotional reaction. If there is a bigger problem that needs an objective mediator, consult the guidance counselor, who may be able to offer additional suggestions to improve your child's experience.

Write a List of Questions

One-on-one time with a teacher is often limited (about a half hour or less), so prepare a list of topics and questions to prevent discussions from wandering. "During a conference, a parent should expect a clear explanation of classroom rules and procedures from the teacher, as well as what your child will be expected to learn," says Jan Lacina, Associate Professor of Literacy at Texas Christian University. She recommends asking: What skills need to be mastered before a child moves to the next grade level? How will my child be evaluated? How can I help?

Gather Examples

Teachers usually have samples of a child's work on hand to demonstrate progress to a parent. Adopt this technique by bringing examples of your child's drawings or writings that indicate whether he is excelling or falling behind. This can add to a teacher's understanding of your child and reveal whether he is developing beyond school and if school lessons are being incorporated at home. Examples can also indicate whether a child shows readiness to be challenged more in the classroom.

Always Take Notes

It's common for parents to think they'll remember everything, but get the most out of your discussion by taking notes. Jotting down answers to your questions, a teacher's thoughts and suggestions, and ideas to enhance your child's development will be helpful for review later. You can also write or type up any questions you have beforehand and then cross each one off as it's answered. Make sure all of your concerns are addressed, but if something was missed, set up a follow-up meeting. Notes are particularly helpful if a parent is nervous or pressed for time and worried about absorbing everything.

Keep in Touch

Whether a conference ends up being productive or disappointing, keep an ongoing and open communication between yourself and your child's teacher. At the end of the meeting, find out how to stay in contact -- whether through email, phone calls, or social networking sites. Although email is a popular choice, use it with caution -- information and tone of voice can be misconstrued, and emails may accidentally get lost in the junk mail folder. "Email is not always the best way to communicate -- especially if it's about a problem. There are times when it might be better to pick up the phone," Lacina says. By keeping in touch, parents and teachers will be informed when changes occur at home or at school, so they can make adjustments to get back on track.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

Mali Anderson writes about art, culture, and parenting. She lives in Louisville, KY, with her husband and young daughter, Ivy.

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